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Resume & Cover Letter Q & A

What are the primary functions, or uses, of a resume?

  • Resumes are self-marketing tools used to present your qualification toward a specific professional goal. Its primary use is to convince the hiring manager or hiring committee that from all the candidates interested in the role, YOU in particular should be contacted for an interview. The more competitive the selection process, the better your resume should be!
  • And a resume is not just used before the interview, but also during and after the interview. Be prepared to talk about any entry on your resume, since your resume is also often used by employers as a prompt for certain questions during an interview
  • And of course after the interviews are over, that resume of yours helps remind your interviewers of the relative strengths and weaknesses of all the candidates as they make their final selection.
  • After you land a job, an updated resume can help you keep that job, get a raise, or a promotion. When it’s time for a performance appraisal, you don’t want to just listen to your boss’s assessment of your accomplishments – this is your chance to document your accomplishments not just to your boss, but your boss’ boss, who will have to approve that promotion or nice raise you deserve.


Should every professional have a resume? If not, who would not need a resume?

  • Yes, I believe every professional should have a resume, or a bio, or a profile of some sort. Most of us want to contribute our skills to a business as an employee or consultant, and many of us want to contribute our skills to a worthwhile organization. In either event, you’ll need some statement that persuasively summarizes your qualifications.
  • Of course there is an exception to every rule, so if you are independently wealthy and have no desire to contribute to society through professional or charitable work, then relax, you do NOT need a resume or even a biography.
  • But you should know, even Donald Trump has an official biography on his web site.

What are some fundamental aspects of resume development/writing to keep in mind when creating a resume for the first time?

  • The first fundamental of resume writing is BE FOCUSED. Focus on a particular type of work and make every word on the page has a right to be there – in other words, make sure everything you include is relevant to your target position and your target audience. To ensure that your resume is relevant to your target audience, study the words employers use to describe the work at hand. Analyze those job ads that detail the work you want to do, and be sure to incorporate the soft skills and hard skills that employers are seeking.
  • The second fundamental of resume writing is BE SNAPPY. Instead of writing passively and focusing on duties, write in a vigorous, accomplishment-oriented style that gives enough detail to prove you’re a performer. Think in terms of compact yet complete statements where you start with an action verb and end with a measurable impact.  Do write in first person verb tense. Skip the pronouns I me and my, which have the effect of making your resume sound less than objective and factual.
  • The third fundamental of resume writing is BE TRUTHFUL. Never exaggerate or fabricate information – you would not want to put yourself in a position where you could not defend any particular statement in your resume – at a minimum that would result in an awkward interview, and in the worst-case scenario, you could be fired from your new job if a mis-statement is later investigated.

How should the resume writer use keywords in their resume?

  • Key words or buzzwords are the nouns and noun phrases used by employers to describe the work at hand and the qualifications needed to excel. They include the job title, the technical or industry-specific qualifications and certifications, as well as the so-called ‘soft skills’ like presentation skills, relationship-building and negotiation skills.
  • Keywords or buzzwords are sometimes used as “search terms” to retrieve a resume from a database.
  • Recruiters and hiring managers are scanning the resume for these important terms as well. If your resume lacks important keywords, you may not make it to the interview because the person doing the first screen of the resumes may lack understanding of your profession and not be able to infer that you have the proper skills. They will go for the candidate who has all the requirements plainly detailed on the resume.
  • I recommend using the keywords throughout the resume, in the summary section, in the experience section, and in the education section, in the context of a complete sentence. I don’t recommend using a keyword block or ‘invisible’ words – recruiters may assume if you don’t use it in a sentence it probably doesn’t apply to you.

What information belongs in a resume?


  • CONTACT INFO – For starters, be sure your contact information is included and correct. You may think this is obvious but I do see resumes where contact info is missing, out of date, or mistyped. The hiring manager can’t invite you in for an interview if she can’t call or email you.
  • DO include an overview statement, details on recent, relevant experience, education, technical skills, and professional activities that demonstrate you have the ability, motivation, education, and background to do the work at hand.
  • NUMBERS are smart in a resume – include verifiable facts such as your company’s overall sales revenues, your budgets, your number of direct reports, your number of clients, and of course quantifiable achievements. Official recognitions of your work such as “Employee of the Year” are always great.

What information does not belong in a resume?

This is a great question. In resume writing it’s just as important to know what kind of information to leave out as it is what kind of information to include. Remember, if it doesn’t qualify you, it might just disqualify you.

  • Getting back to contact information, do not include your work phone number or your work email address – these are your current employer’s assets and they are not appropriate for you to utilize in seeking other employment.
  • Do not include everything you have ever done in your life. Some jobs are too old, some jobs may not be relevant to your current goal. Likewise with education. If you have attended multiple college, it may not make sense to include them all. If you have degrees or certificates that don’t really apply to your current goal, think hard about how or whether to include them. If you are pursuing jobs where they are seeking 5 years of experience and you have 25 years of experience, do not include it all, you will be seen as overqualified and not a fit.
  • It’s generally not appropriate to include your date of birth, any kind of high school information, marital status, religious or political affiliations. Don’t include any information that will enable an accurate guess at your age. If your degree is more than 10 years old, do not include the date of graduation.


  • Think of resumes and job applications as two very different things. Do not include unnecessary headers like “email, phone number, employer” and definitely don’t include addresses of employers, wages paid, or supervisor’s names and phone numbers. Do not include your photo.


  • Also avoid the temptation to copy and paste the company “job description” into your resume. Job descriptions are too generic and too detailed to serve as vibrant examples of your accomplishments on the job. Most people understand your typical duties when they read your job descriptions. It’s better to add specific details that explain the scope of your work, how your work is measured, and what specific things you’ve contributed to the company’s success.


  • References are not part of a resume, nor do you need to end with the phrase “references on request.” Employers know they can ask you for references at an appropriate time.


  • Reasons for leaving are generally not part of the resume unless you can legitimately make an accomplishment-statement.


  • Hobbies and non-work activities should generally not be on the resume. You might also want to avoid including hyperlinks for your email and any web pages for technical reasons (your resume might get caught in a spam filter).

What type size and font should be used?

It really is important to create a smart-looking document that commands attention.

  • For the main body font, you should use a size of 9 to 11 points depending on the particular font you choose. Make sure your chosen font is crisp, business-like, and easy to read. Ask a few people to scan the resume for you and ask them if they find it user friendly and easy to digest. For your name, you can use a larger font, up to 18 points. Your name is the most important thing on the page so it should be the largest. For your section headers, use a 12 pt font.
  • Avoid old-fashioned font treatments like underlining.
  • Use a little, but not too much bolding, all caps, and italics.
  • Don’t use more than two different font types in your resume.
  • Be sure you have plenty of white space for your margins and horizontally between the major sections of the resume.
  • If you have more than one page, make sure that the information is balanced across each page – you wouldn’t want to have a page and a quarter of information, as that doesn’t look well-thought out.

Should your years of professional experience determine the length of the resume?


Not necessarily!

  • The length of your resume has more to do with the total amount of relevant content.
  • The more recent and relevant the experience, the more detail you should include. As you go back further in your history it’s more appropriate to pare down the amount of detail you’re including in your resume.
  • Make sure you are not repeating the same phrases over and over in your resume, no one wants to read the same exact description twice.
  • For some people, such as consultants or people with projects, the number of relevant projects will determine the length of the resume.

Is there an absolute limit for page length of a resume? If so, what is it?

  • No, there is no absolute limit, although most of the resumes I prepare for my clients do not exceed 2 pages. Expectations vary in different professions and industries.
  • Some recruiters and hiring managers have a preference for very short resumes, others want to see more detail.
  • When in doubt, keep it brief and packed with accomplishments and keywords.

What if you have very little professional experience? What information should be offered in the resume?

  • Everyone’s resume should have an introductory section that talks about career goals, interests, abilities, soft skills, and hard skills, as they relate to the target position. If you’re just starting out in your career or you’re making a career change, your introductory section is even more important.
  • In your experience section, you don’t just have to limit yourself to full time, paid employment. You can also include a description of internships, volunteer work, and part-time or independent work that relates to your goal.
  • And of course if you have strong educational credentials, you can add details on relevant courses to further develop your resume.

How often should a resume be updated, and what are some tips on updating?

  • You never know when you might need an updated resume – with social networking, great opportunities can come out of the blue and it pays to have a polished resume ready to go. You should also have an updated resume to present at your performance evaluations, or you risk being taken for granted by your boss.
  • As far as how often to update your resume, a lot depends on how much you accomplish or how often you change jobs.
  • Some people might want to update as often twice a year. I have one client who is a producer for a very popular and prolific comedian who has a complex business with numerous projects, products, TV shows, and tours going on each year. This particular client should probably update her resume once every three months.
  • Others can get away with updating every year or two but the longer you wait, the more likely you are to miss out on important details that could support your career advancement.
  • I strongly encourage my clients to keep an “atta boy” or “atta girl” file where you keep notes on things you’ve accomplished each month. This not only helps you to think about what you have already accomplished, it helps you to think like a top performer so that you’ll strive harder to excel. Set up an Outlook reminder that says “What did I accomplish this month?”
  • As you track your career progress, remember to include specifics such as cost savings, sales increases, profit margins, names and types of accounts serviced. Every time you get a kind word from a manager, colleague, or customer, save it in the atta boy / atta girl file – chances are there is good material for the resume. And of course save details on any awards or recognitions you receive through your employer or  professional organizations to which you belong.
  • Of course, every time you update your resume, re-examine your career goals. Then make sure every word on the page is still relevant and still supports your goals. So that your resume doesn’t grow into the great American novel, be sure to delete outdated or less helpful information.

When does work experience become too old and should be removed (or excluded) from a resume?

It really depends on the situation but usually 10 to 15 years is sufficient. You may have experience from the past that is still relevant and beneficial, but often I find ways to effectively include key qualifications in the resume without tying them to a specific time frame, job title, and company.

When you’ve finished creating or updating a resume, what should you do next? 

Share your resume with several colleagues and ask for suggestions on content. Ask them to point out any glaring errors too. And never think of your resume as “finished” – it’s a living document that should be tailored to suit the opportunity at hand. Whenever possible, ask your target audience – meaning the hiring managers and recruiters to whom you are sending the resume – for feedback on your resume – after all, you have written it especially for them, so their opinion matters a great deal.

Let’s imagine a job seeker finds an opening and is interested in applying. Should that person send both their resume and a cover letter?


  • If you’re really interested in a position you should bring your “A” game to both the resume and the cover letter. The more specific you can be with your application, the more likely you are going to be seen as a top candidate.
  • Hiring managers are generally favorably impressed when you make an effort in your application.
  • Make sure that the cover letter is targeted to address the specific company, contact person, and opportunity at hand. A cover letter should be very different from your resume. It should not be a narrative rehash of what is already in your resume.

Are there any circumstances when a job seeker would not send a cover letter with their resume?

If you have someone inside the organization who is serving as your spokesperson, you might be able to get away without a cover letter. If you have no information on the company, such as a blind ad, you might be able to get away without a cover letter.

What information should be contained in the cover letter?

You should always try to get the hiring manager’s name and job title, the HR contact’s name and job title. This makes the letter more personal and is an important first step toward following up.

You should include a mention of anyone you know in the company and what they have to say about it. Include what you like about the company – they love hearing why you think they’re great. You should include specifics about the impacts you believe you can make in the position, and highlight your best qualifications for the job. And last but not least, you should let them know that you intend to follow up in a few days to get their feedback on your application.


  1. 17.   What tone should the cover letter convey? Can the job-seeker add a bit of their personality? If so, what’s appropriate?

If you are responding to a job ad, do your best to match their tone. An earnest, enthusiastic tone is generally welcome.

How long should the cover letter be? 

Most cover letters should be less than one page.

Should the same resume/cover letter be used for every position a job-seeker pursues in their current job-search?

No! No one is impressed by a form letter. The best you can do in a form letter is a narrative rehash of what’s already in your resume. The only letter worth reading is one that is specific and vibrant.

Should the resume and cover letter be sent both electronically (via email) and in hard copy form (via the postal service)?

You should send the resume and cover letter in the format requested, whether that’s an online upload, and email, a fax, or a hard copy by mail.

  • Follow up with the company to ensure that they received your letter and resume. Often people think they’ve successfully completed an online application, or attached a resume, and something went wrong. Sometimes spam filters and other technical glitches can get in the way. Never assume that your information was received!
  • You can of course send a hard copy resume to a company but do so as a last resort. Many companies these days are paperless and wouldn’t know where to file a hard copy resume unless it’s the recycle bin.

When should a job seeker get help from a professional, like you, with their resume?

  • It’s a very competitive job market these days, so even if you happen to be an outstanding writer, I would say getting professional help can make all the difference in a swift and successful end to your search.
  • One reason for hiring a pro or getting outside help is this = Writing a resume is very subjective, meaning it’s easy for you to focus on things that seem important but just aren’t relevant to your target audience. Getting outside help from an expert can make the process much more objective, easier, and much more effective.
  • It’s also important to note that many job search services often tax-deductible, so the cost of resume preparation and related services can be a write-off.
  • At a minimum, look at current resume sample books, get a free critique or two from a professional resume writer, or get a friend or two to help you. If you do decide to hire a resume writer, ask your friends for referrals, or use the Professional Association of Resume Writers web site (www.parw.com) to find a certified professional resume writer near you.

Still have questions? Feel free to email them to tracy @career-magic.com. You can also send us your resume for a one-time free critique!